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Simon H. Fell - Frank & Max: Bass Solos 2001-2011

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Artist: Simon H. Fell

Album: Frank & Max: Bass Solos 2001-2011

Label: Bo'Weavil

Review date: Feb. 10, 2012

In 1991, double bassist Simon H. Fell released a solo bass cassette on his Bruce’s Fingers label, entitled Max. For 20 years it stood in splendid isolation as his only solo recording. Now, he’s followed it up with Frank & Max which, despite what the title might imply, does not include any of the material on Max. Instead, he offers eight bass solos recorded between 2001 and 2011.

Seven of the titles are dedications, including to such esteemed bassists as John Edwards, Barry Guy, Harry Miller, Charles Mingus and Barre Phillips. Also in receipt of dedications are Peter Leah, Fell’s only bass teacher, plus Jo Fell (his wife) and Patrick Charton who are both makers of basses, Jo having made her husband’s five-string bass from scratch, while Charton set up that bass for the recording, to Fell’s obvious delight.

On any album of solo bass, two vital factors are the sound of the instrument itself and the quality of the recording. Here, thanks to Charton and Graham Halliwell, who recorded the music, both factors are absolutely right. So we hear the full detail of every note as if we were standing right next to the bass, allowing Fell’s playing to be fully appreciated. Across the album, Fell employs a wide range of techniques that generate as wide a range of sounds. However, unlike solo bass albums by some others, this never becomes a mere technical exercise; Fell incorporates the sounds produced into music that is both varied and satisfying.

The six-minute “For Jo Fell & Patrick Charton” is a particular highlight, a virtuoso display of Fell’s nimble-fingered technique and stamina as his fingers fly all over the fingerboard and strings, producing a cascade of rich, resonant music that listeners will feel as much as hear. In complete contrast, but just as impressive, is “For Harry Miller,” on which Fell uses his bow far more. He summons up long booming arco notes from the depths of his instrument, interspersing them with higher, lighter arco notes and plucked runs as contrast, in a pyrotechnic display of the versatility of the bass.

Of the only cover on Frank & Max, Fell comments that “if you improvise upon a five-string bass with a low B string you will eventually end up playing Bill Evans’ Turn Out the Stars… look at the score.” He demonstrates the point by producing a fluid version of the piece, which flows smoothly out of the instrument as naturally as breathing — like the album, a delight from start to finish.

Albums of solo bass are rare, good ones rarer, with little agreement among fans of the genre about the best ones — but Fell’s list of dedicatees is a good place to start, with Journal Violone by Barre Phillips, Symmetries by Barry Guy and Volume by John Edwards, as well as Peter Kowald’s Was Da Ist. One thing is certain: with the release of Frank & Max, Fell has earned the right to join such exalted company.

By John Eyles

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